Going into every season every Major League Baseball team has expectations. For some clubs it’s all about getting to and hopefully winning the World Series. For other clubs it’s about transitioning the roster into a potential contender in the least amount of time possible. Along with the overall expectations of the teams, there are players who are expected to produce. For example let’s use an obvious team in contention this season like the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will count on Mike Trout for a lot of their overall production. They have supplemented his talent with other talented players and will undoubtedly be looking to make a run at the World Series. While other teams like the Miami Marlins are not as concerned with competing for the World Series in 2018 but more so focused on building a championship caliber team further down the road. However, regardless there is a season quickly approaching and each team will have someone who’s production could very well be the key factor in whether or not a team is a contender or a pretender to their specific goals for the 2018 season. This list will cover those players…those “X-Factors”
Starting in the National League West
- Arizona Diamondbacks: Steven Souza Jr– Souza was traded for to replace the listed production of JD Martinez. Souza had 30 homeruns in 2017.
- Colorado Rockies: Jon Gray– Gray became the ace of the Rockies pitching staff in 2017 and will look to build upon that success.
- Los Angeles Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw– Now Kershaw may seem like it’s and obvious answer but Kershaw has dealt with injuries over that last couple seasons so health for Kershaw is of the utmost importance for this team.
- San Diego Padres: Wil Myers– Myers is now moving back to the outfield to accommodate the signing of Eric Hosmer. So the question will be if in moving back to the outfield can Myers take the next step in his development.
- San Francisco Giants: Brandon Belt– Much like Kershaw for the Dodgers Belt has dealt with many issues over the past few seasons and his health is very important to the Giants hopes of getting back to the playoffs.
National League Central
- Chicago Cubs: Javier Baez– Javy is a dynamic talent that should get more playing time in 2018 with the decline of Ben Zobrist. Baez is known as the best “tagger in the game” and look for him to show that off just a bit more with steady playing time in 2018.
- Cincinnati Reds: Billy Hamilton– MLB’s resident flash Billy Hamilton has game changing speed but hasn’t been able to truly showcase that talent due to a less than stellar OBP (on base percentage), if Hamilton can begin to improve his OBP the possibilities are endless for his development.
- Milwaukee Brewers: Domingo Santana– Santana had an incredible breakout season in 2017, and will look to continue to build on that. However, with the abundance of outfielders now in the Brew Crew, Santana may be used as a trade piece to sure up pitching for the Brewers. Either way Santana makes an impact for this club in 2018.
- Pittsburgh Pirates: Starling Marte– Marte was suspended for PED’s in 2017 but prior to that was seen as one of the games best defenders and his offense was on the uptick. But the question now is who is the real Starling Marte ?
- St. Louis Cardinals: Tommy Pham– Pham had a huge breakout season for the Cardinals in 2017 and will look to build on that success. Pham’s breakout year placed him at number two overall on the MLB Network special Top 10 Center Fielders Right Now.
National League East
- Atlanta Braves: Ronald Acuna– Acuna the top prospect in all of MLB is playing extremely well in spring training. And while he may not break camp with the team look for Acuna to come up and make a big impact for the Braves in 2018.
- Miami Marlins: Lewis Brinson– The Marlins are going through a “build” (the term used by part owner and the Marlins C.E.O Derek Jeter to describe what’s going on in Miami). With this build one of the prospects the Marlins received in the deals that they made was Lewis Brinson from the Brewers. Brinson should have an opportunity to make the Marlins ball club out of Spring Training and have a chance to play everyday.
- New York Mets: Noah Syndergaard– Much like with Kershaw, Syndergaard (and honestly nearly the entire Mets starting pitching staff) dealt with injuries in 2017. Health will be the biggest component to the success of “Thor”. And the Mets chances for success begin on Syndergaard’s shoulders.
- Philadelphia Phillies: Maikel Franco– Franco was highly touted during his time in the Phillies minor league system. Franco has also showed spurts of his immense talent but hasn’t shown the ability to be consistent with that high level of performance. 2018 will be a crucial year in the development of Maikel because if he can not show real strides in his consistency he may not have a place on the 2019 Phillies with the impending free agent class next off-season.
- Washington Nationals: Anthony Rendon– Rendon is one of baseball’s best kept secrets. Rendon is on a team with true stars in Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and of course Bryce Harper. Yet year in and year out Rendon quietly puts up very consistent numbers plays above average defense at third base and comes up quite clutch when the Nationals need him most. With the impending free agency of Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper, Rendon becomes all the more important.
American League West
- Houston Astros: Marwin Gonzalez– Marwin showed his worth during the 2017 season, playing all over the field and being a big contributor in their World Series victory.
- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Garrett Richards– While all the attention will be on Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout the guy who’s development the Angels are truly counting on is Richards. If Garrett can stay healthy and take another step towards anchoring himself in as the ace of the pitching staff.
- Oakland Athletics: Matt Olson– Olson had a very nice rookie campaign. Going into 2018 a lot of Oakland’s offense will be dependent on the production of Olson in the middle of the A’s lineup.
- Seattle Mariners: Dee Gordon– After being a shortstop with the Dodgers and a second baseman with the Marlins now Dee Gordon is making the switch to center field for the Mariners. Gordon turned himself into a very solid defender at second base. Gordon doesn’t have any homerun power but that’s not his game, his game is predicated on speed. The further development coupled with the change in position will make Dee an important factor for the Mariners quest to end the longest current playoff-less streak (16 seasons) in baseball.
- Texas Rangers: Matt Bush– Will he start ? Will he come out of the bullpen ? Will the Rangers use a “6-man” rotation ? Bush will be a key component for any success the Rangers will have in 2018. A team that is current viewed as being middle of the pack, a big time impact arm like Matt Bush may just push them over the top.
American League Central
- Chicago White Sox: Jose Abreu– Seemingly the last man standing in the White Sox sell off, Abreu has been an extremely productive player since coming over from Cuba. The White Sox may surprise people in 2018 and then the production from Abreu will be vitally important. If they however find themselves not in contention whatsoever they may opt to trade Abreu and bring back even more young talent.
- Cleveland Indians: Michael Brantley– At one point Brantley was one of the games top talents but injuries have stunted those opportunities for Brantley. In 2018 Michael will be looking to get back to his healthy form and give the Indians another potent bat for one of baseball “Super Teams”.
- Detroit Tigers: Michael Fulmer– The Tigers are in full on rebuild mode in Detroit, so it will seemingly be a long summer in Motown. However there is a bright spot at the end of the tunnel and that’s Michael Fulmer. Fulmer was acquired in the Yoenis Cespedes trade with the Mets. Since then Fulmer went on to win the 2016 Rookie of the Year. Last season was a bit of a struggle but look for a bounce back by Fulmer in 2018.
- Kansas City Royals: Whit Merrifield– Whit had a breakout season in 2017 and will look to continue that going forward. The Royals are another club in baseball that are rebuilding and Merrifield’s further development can help the club stay competitive in the division.
- Minnesota Twins: Jose Berrios– Berrios is one of MLB’s young stars, Berrios had a very good season in 2017 and with the injury to Ervin Santana, Berrios becomes the next ace for the Twins.
American League East
- Baltimore Orioles: Manny Machado– Obviously Manny is the best player in the Orioles and any success they have the bulk will be coming from his bat. The other factor that makes Manny so important to the Orioles 2018 season is if the team falls out of contention early trading Manny Machado can help replenish a farm system that has almost no high level close to MLB ready talent in it.
- Boston Red Sox: David Price– The lineup for the Red Sox can score runs. Now with JD Martinez they will have a little more pop but the success for this team is dependent on their very left handed pitching rotation, namely David Price. 2017 was a rough year from Price in Boston, issues with media members, injuries and overall ineffectiveness throughout the season. Price seemed to pitch better in the playoffs coming out of the bullpen. But he isn’t staying in the pen, the 217 million dollar man will be back in the rotation in 2018 and the teams success will rest on his left arm.
- New York Yankees: Greg Bird– Bird’s career thus far has been mired with a plethora of injuries, however now seemingly healthy Bird will be the guy that breaks up some combination of the three right handed hitting power monsters in the Bronx. If Bird can stay healthy and in the lineup the level of success that the New York Yankees lineup can produce will be absolutely frightening for all of MLB.
- Tampa Bay Rays: Chris Archer– Like Manny in Baltimore the success of the Tampa Bay Rays depends on Chris Archer having a tremendous year. And just like with Manny and the Orioles if they fall out of early contention for the AL East crown then look for Archer to be own the move to bring back talent for Tampa’s future.
- Toronto Blue Jays: Josh Donaldson– A growing trend amongst the teams in the AL East, following the two headed monster atop the division in the Yankees and Red Sox, the other three clubs seem to be in a state of flux. Do we go for it or do we pack up ship off and rebuild ? Donaldson like Manny with Baltimore and Archer with Tampa, the success of the Blue Jays rest with Donaldson. Therefore if the team falters early Donaldson who is a free agent following the season may be a valuable commodity in the July 31st trade market.
Each and every season teams have goals and expectations, yes all will claim to have World Series aspirations but not all truly play with that goal in mind. These 30 men have a chance to make an impact for their respective ball clubs in one way or another. Keep an eye out for these players to see just how their season and their teams seasons turned out.